Sydney church launches weekly 'Info Cafe' to provide job, debt, legal advice

A small church in Sydney, N.S., has launched a new weekly gathering to help people access the advice they need, all under one roof.

'We've seen a number of people that have felt like their burdens have been lifted,' says Pastor Rob Jones

Some of the advisers for the Info Cafe, standing left to right, are: Rev. Ian Dixon, Wilma Blois and Pastor Rob Jones. Seated are Scott Purdie with Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada and Jenny Ross of the YMCA of Cape Breton's Nova Scotia Works Employment Services Centre. (Holly Conners/CBC)

A small church in Sydney, N.S., has launched a new weekly gathering to help people access the advice they need, all under one roof.

The weekly sessions will bring together advisers in the areas of money and debt management, housing, employment, legal aid and relationship counselling.

"We've had people come into our church with lots of different needs and so the idea was centred around, 'What if we developed some sort of one-stop advice centre, where people could come in and get help with the different issues of their lives?'" said Pastor Rob Jones of the Faith Baptist Church.

Idea inspired by model in Britain

It's an idea that got its inspiration from a similar model in Britain, where Jones hails from.

While the British model focused on debt counselling in the wake of a recession, Jones feels the needs in Cape Breton are more complex and call for a co-ordinated approach "because a lot of these things sort of knock on to each other and dovetail into each other."

The first session included advisers from Housing First CBRM, YMCA of Cape Breton's Nova Scotia Works Employment Services Centre, Nova Scotia Legal Aid and Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada.

Five people came to the first Info Cafe for advice. (Holly Conners/CBC)

A social worker with the Nova Scotia Health Authority also dropped in.

"One of the things that has been encouraging to us is the professionals who have come just to check us out to see what we're actually doing, because they are working in the community in primary health and primary care," said Info Cafe volunteer Wilma Blois.

Unexpected benefits

For the various community organizations involved, the project has had some unexpected benefits.

"This is more of an indirect way to not only see the need that's out there for financial advice, but to also see what other community partners have to offer and to learn more about their services," said credit counsellor Scott Purdie.

While the first Info Cafe drew only five people, Jones is hopeful attendance will grow, noting the British version started off slowly, but now sees as many as 50 clients each week.

He said one of the women who came in for advice during the first session gave one of the workers a big hug before she left and pledged to spread the word.

"Even today we've seen a number of people that have felt like their burdens have been lifted and they've been given good advice to enable them to make the next step in their lives," said Jones.

The Info Cafes will run every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.